Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, was born on the 25th of April 1599, and educated under Dr Thomas Beard, a fervent puritan, at the free school at Huntingdon, and on the 23rd of April 1616 matriculated as a fellow-commoner at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, then a hotbed of puritanism, subsequently studying law in London.
In August 1620 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Bourchier, a city merchant of Tower Hill, and of Felstead in Essex; and his father having died in 1617 he settled at Huntingdon and occupied himself in the management of his small estate.
In 1628 he was returned to parliament as member for the borough, and on the 11th of February 1629 he spoke in support of puritan doctrine, complaining of the attempt by the king to silence Dr Beard, who had raised his voice against the "flat popery" inculcated by Dr Alabaster at Paul's Cross. He was also one of the members who refused to adjourn at the king's command till Sir John Eliot's resolutions had been passed.
During the eleven years of government without parliament very little is recorded of Cromwell. His name is not connected with the resistance to the levy of ship-money or to the action of the ecclesiastical courts, but in 1630 he was one of those fined for refusing to take up knighthood. The same year he was named one of the justices of the peace for his borough. He defended the rights of the commoners of Ely threatened by the "adventurers" who had drained the Great Level, and he was nicknamed afterwards by a royalist newspaper "Lord of the Fens." He was again later the champion of the commoners of St Ives in the Long Parliament against enclosures by the earl of Manchester, obtaining a commission of the House of Commons to inquire into the case, when he was censured by the future Lord Clarendon, by his "impetuous carriage" and "insolent behaviour."
According to Clarendon he told the latter in 1641 that if the Grand Remonstrance had not passed "he would have sold all he had the next morning and never have seen England more."
He represented Cambridge in the Short and Long Parliaments of 1640, and opposed the government, serving on numerous committees. As the cousin of Hampden and St. John he was intimately associated with the leaders of the parliamentary party.
His chief interest from the first, lay in the religious question. He belonged to the Root and Branch party, and spoke in favour of the petition of the London citizens for the abolition of episcopacy in February 1641, and pressed upon the House the Root and Branch Bill in May. On the 6th of November he carried a motion entrusting the train-bands south of the Trent to the command of the earl of Essex. On the 14th of January 1642, after the king's attempt to seize the five members, he moved for a committee to put the kingdom in a posture of defence.
Oliver joined Essex with sixty horse, and was present at Edgehill, where his troop was one of the few not routed by Rupert's charge, when CharlesI was considered to be in a superior military position.
Essex was inactive near Oxford; in the west Sir Ralph Hopton had won a series of victories, and in the north Newcastle defeated the Fairfaxes at Adwalton Moor, and all Yorkshire except Hull was in his hands. It seemed likely that the whole of the north would be laid open and the royalists be able to march upon London and join Charles and Hopton there.
This was prevented by the "Eastern Association," a union of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, of 1642 and augmented in 1643 by Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire, of which Cromwell was the leading spirit.
In January 1643 he seized the royalist high sheriff of Hertfordshire in the act of proclaiming the king's commission of array at St Albans; in February he was at Cambridge taking measures for the defence of the town; in March suppressing royalist risings at Lowestoft and Lynn; in April those of Huntingdon, when he also recaptured Crowland from the king's party. In May he defeated a greatly superior royalist force at Grantham, proceeding afterwards to Nottingham in accordance with Essex's plan of penetrating into Yorkshire to relieve the Fairfaxes; where, however, difficulties, arising from jealousies between the officers, and the treachery of John Hotham, whose arrest Cromwell was instrumental in effecting, obliged him to retire again to the association, leaving the Fairfaxes to be defeated at Adwalton Moor.
Cromwell stemmed the advance of the royalists and defeated them at Gainsborough on the 28th of July, and managed a masterly retreat before overwhelming numbers to Lincoln, while the victory on the 11th of October at Winceby finally secured the association, and maintained the wedge which prevented the junction of the royalists in the north with the king in the south.
With the founding of his New Model Army, Cromwell was appointed governor of the Isle of Ely; in January 1644 and became second in command under the earl of Manchester as lieutenant-general of the Eastern Association, then a member of the Committee of Both Kingdoms. In March he took Hillesden House in Buckinghamshire; in May was at the siege of Lincoln, when he repulsed Goring's attempt to relieve the town, and subsequently took part in Manchester's campaign in the north.
At Marston Moor on the 2nd of July he commanded all the horse of the Eastern Association, with some Scottish troops; and though for a time disabled by a wound in the neck, he charged and routed Rupert's troops, and went to the support of the Scots, converting what appeared at one time a defeat into a decisive victory. It was here he earned the nickname of "Ironsides," applied to him by Prince Rupert, and afterwards to his soldiers.
Manchester wanted to negotiate with the king, and was opposed to Cromwell's sectaries. He remained at Lincoln, did nothing to prevent the defeat of Essex's army in the west, and when he at last advanced south to join Essex's and Waller's troops his management of the army led to the failure of the attack upon the king at Newbury in October 1644. He delayed supporting the infantry till too late, and was repulsed; he allowed the royal army to march past his outposts; and a fortnight afterwards, without any attempt to prevent it, and greatly to Cromwell's vexation, permitted the moving of the king's artillery and the relief of Donnington Castle by Prince Rupert.
A struggle ensued between the moderate Presbyterians and the Scots on the one side, who decided to maintain the monarchy and to establish Presbyterianism in England, and the republicans who wanted the complete overthrow of the king, and the Independents.
The lords and the Scots vehemently took Manchester's part; but the Commons eventually sided with Cromwell, appointed Sir Thomas Fairfax general of the New Model Army, and passed two self-denying ordinances, the second of which, ordering all members of both houses to lay down their commissions within forty days, was accepted by the lords on the 3rd of April 1645.
The king no had longer a field army, and Cromwell was present at the sieges of Bridgwater, Bath, Sherborne and Bristol; and later employed in clearing Wiltshire and Hampshire of the royalist garrisons. He took Devizes and Laycock House, Winchester and Basing House, and rejoined Fairfax in October at Exeter, and accompanied him to Cornwall, where he assisted in the defeat of Hopton's forces and in the suppression of the royalists in the west. In January 1646 he surprised Lord Wentworth's brigade at Bovey Tracey, and was present with Fairfax at the fall of Exeter on the 9th of April. He then went to London to give an account of proceedings to the parliament, was thanked for his services and rewarded with the estate of the marquess of Worcester. He was present again with Fairfax at the capitulation of Oxford on the 24th of June, which practically terminated the Civil War, after which he took his family from Ely to Drury Lane, London, and about a year later to King Street, Westminster.
The war now over, the proposed disbandment of the army in February 1647 would have placed the soldiers entirely in the power of the parliament; while the king continued negotiations with the Scots and then with parliament.
In May 1647 in company with Skippon, Ireton and Fleetwood, Cromwell tried to persuade the army submit to the parliament. The Presbyterians, however, now engaged in a plan for restoring the king under their own control with the help of a Scottish army.
Cromwell ordered Cornet Joyce to prevent the king's removal by the parliament or the Scots from his captivity at Holmby, and brought him to Newmarket to the headquarters of the army, a new forum for negotiation with parliament were made before he advanced towards London.
4th July 1647 - Cromwell had had an interview with the king at Caversham. He was not insensible to Charles's good qualities, was touched by the paternal affection he showed for his children, and is said to have declared that Charles" was the uprightest and most conscientious man of his three kingdoms."
19th July 1647 - Fairfax was appointed sole commander-in-chief, the soldiers levied to oppose the army were dismissed, and the command of the city militia was again restored to the committee approved by the army.
26th July 1647 - under the pressure of the royalist city mob which invaded the two Houses; but the two speakers, with eight peers and fifty-seven members of the Commons, themselves joined the army, which now advanced to London, overawing all resistance, escorting the fugitive members in triumph to Westminster on the 6th of August, and obliging the parliament on the 10th to cancel the last votes, with the threat of a regiment of cavalry drawn up by Cromwell in Hyde Park.
The Heads of the Proposals, which, on Charles raising objections, had been modified by the influence of Cromwell and Ireton, demanded the control of the militia and the choice of ministers by parliament for ten years, a religious toleration, and a council of state to which much of the royal control over the army and foreign policy would be delegated. These proposals largely diminished the royal power, and were rejected by Charles by negotiating simultaneously with army and parliament, inflaming their jealousies and differences, and secure his restoration with his full prerogatives unimpaired.
9th September 1647 - Charles refused once more the Newcastle Propositions offered him by the parliament, and Cromwell, together with Ireton and Vane, obtained the passing of a motion for a new application; but the terms asked by the parliament were higher than before and included a harsh condition.
The failure to come to terms with King Charles, threatened anarchy, where agitators demanded immediate settlement by force by the army. The extreme republicans put forward the Agreement of the People. This was strongly opposed by Cromwell, who declared it would bring upon the country "utter confusion" and "make England like Switzerland." He also spoke against the abolition of either the monarchy or the Lords.
All hopes of an accommodation with Charles were dispelled by his flight on the 11th November 1647 from Hampton Court to Carisbrooke Castle in the Isle of Wight, the object being to negotiate independently with the Scots, the parliament and the army. His action, however, in the event, diminished rather than increased his chances of success, owing to the general distrust of his intentions. Both the army and the parliament gave cold replies to his offers to negotiate.
27th December 1647, Charles I entered into the Engagement with the Scots by which he promised the establishment of Presbyterianism for three years, the suppression of the Independents and their sects, together with privileges for the Scottish nobles, while the Scots undertook to invade England and restore him to his throne.
Cromwell, now convinced of the uselessness of maintaining Charles on the throne; proposed in January 1648 the transference of the crown to the prince of Wales. A week after the signing of the treaty he supported a proposal for the king's deposition, and the vote of No Addresses was carried. Meanwhile the position of Charles's opponents had been considerably strengthened by the suppression of a dangerous rebellion in November 1647 by Cromwell's intervention, and by the return of troops to obedience.
Cromwell's moderate and trimming attitude was understood neither by the extreme Independents nor by the Presbyterians. He made one attempt to reconcile the disputes between the army and the politicians by a conference, but ended the barren discussion on the relative merits of aristocracies, monarchies and democracies, interspersed with Bible texts, by throwing a cushion at the speaker's head and running downstairs.
On the 19th of January 1648 Cromwell was accused of high treason by Lilburne. Plots were formed for his assassination, but he was overtaken by a dangerous illness, probably malaria, and on the 2nd of March civil war in support of the king broke out.
Cromwell left London in May to suppress the royalists in Wales, and took Pembroke Castle on the 11th of July. Meanwhile behind his back the royalists had risen all over England, the fleet in the Downs had declared for Charles, and the Scottish army under Hamilton had invaded the north. Immediately on the fall of Pembroke Cromwell set out to relieve Lambert, who was slowly retreating before Hamilton's superior forces; he joined him near Knaresborough on the 12th of August, and started next day in pursuit of Hamilton in Lancashire, placing himself at Stonyhurst near Preston, cutting off Hamilton from the north and his allies, and defeating him in detail on the 17th, 18th and 19th at Preston and at Warrington. He then marched north into Scotland, following the forces of Monro, and established a new government of the Argyle faction at Edinburgh.
The Second Civil War and the treaty with the Scots exasperated Cromwell against the king. On his return to London he found the parliament again negotiating Cromwell with Charles, and on the eve of making a treaty which Charles himself had no intention of keeping and regarded merely as a means of regaining his power, throwing away all the advantages gained during years of bloodshed and struggle.
Cromwell therefore did not hesitate to join the army in its opposition to the parliament, and supported demand for the king's punishment as "the grand author of all our troubles," and justified the use of force by the army if other means failed. Parliament, however, continued to negotiate, and accordingly Charles was removed by the army to Hurst Castle on the 1st of December, the troops occupied London on the 2nd; while on the 6th and 7th Colonel Pride "purged" the House of Commons of the Presbyterians. Cromwell was not the originator of this act, but showed his approval by taking his seat among the fifty or sixty Independent members who remained.
Cromwell appears to have made once more attempts to come to terms with Charles; but the king was inflexible and at the end of December it was resolved to bring him to trial. Once convinced of the necessity for the king's execution, Cromwell was the chief instrument in overcoming all scruples among his judges, and in resisting the protests and appeals of the Scots.
30th January 1649, King Charles was beheaded outside the Banqueting Hall.
On the scaffold the triumphant shouts of the soldiery could not overwhelm the groans and sobs raised by the populace. Whatever crimes might be charged against Charles, his past conduct might appear to be condoned by the act of negotiating with him. On the other hand, the execution seemed to Cromwell the only alternative to anarchy, or to a return to despotism and the abandonment of all they had fought for.
The king and the monarchy being now destroyed in England, Cromwell turned his attention to the suppression of Cromwell royalism in Ireland and in Scotland. In Ireland Ormonde had succeeded in uniting the English and Irish in a league against the supporters of parliament, and only a few scattered forts held out for the Commonwealth, while the young king was every day expected to land and complete the conquest of the island.
In March 1649 Cromwell was appointed lord-lieutenant and commander-in-chief for its reduction. And surpressed a mutiny of the army in May. He landed at Dublin on the 13th of August and on the 10th of September he stormed Drogheda, and by his order the whole of its 2800 defenders were put to the sword without quarter. Cromwell justified his severity by the cruelties perpetrated by the Irish in the rebellion of 1641, and as being necessary on military and political grounds.
After the fall of Drogheda, Cromwell sent a few troops to relieve Londonderry, and marched to Wexford, which he took on the 11th of October, and where similar scenes of cruelty were repeated; every captured priest, to use Cromwell's own words, being immediately "knocked on the head," though the story of the three hundred women slaughtered in the market-place has no foundation.
The surrender of Trim, Dundalk and Ross followed, but at Waterford Cromwell met with a stubborn resistance and the advent of winter obliged him to raise the siege. The following year, Cromwell penetrated into Munster, and Cashel, Cahir and several castles fell in February, and Kilkenny in March; Clonmel repulsing the assault with great loss, but surrendering on the 10th of May 1650. Cromwell himself sailed a fortnight later, leaving the reduction of the island to his generals.
Cromwell thoroughly approved of the scheme of confiscation and colonization, causing great privations and sufferings. The Roman Catholic landowners lost their estates, which were distributed among Cromwell's soldiers and the creditors of the government; Cromwell also invited new settlers from home and from New England, two-thirds of the whole land of Ireland being thus transferred to new proprietors, and the suppression of Roman Catholicism zealously pursued. Priests were hunted down and imprisoned or exiled to Spain or Barbados, the performance of mass forbidden. , and the only liberty allowed was that of conscience, with catholics not obliged to attend Protestant services.
Cromwell then went back to England to urge Fairfax to attack the Scots in their own country and to forestall their invasion; but Fairfax refused and resigned, and Cromwell entered Scotland in July. After a campaign near Edinburgh which proved unsuccessful, he retreated to Dunbar to await reinforcements from Berwick. The Scots under Leslie followed him, occupied Doon Hill commanding the town, and seized the passes between Dunbar and Berwick which Cromwell had omitted to secure. Cromwell was outmanoeuvred and cut off from England and from his supplies.
Leslie descended the hill to complete his triumph, but after a struggle on the next day, the 3rd of September, Cromwell achieved a decisive victory, occupying Edinburgh and Leith. By 1651 Charles II. Had formed a union of royalists and presbyterians, and another campaign became inevitable. Some delay was caused in beginning operations by Cromwell's dangerous illness, during which his life was despaired of; but in June he was confronting Leslie entrenched in the hills near Stirling, impregnable to attack and refusing an engagement.
Cromwell sent 14,000 men into Fifeshire and marched to Perth, which he captured on the 2nd of August, thus cutting off Leslie from the north and his supplies. This movement the way to England open, and Charles II marched south, giving Cromwell the opportunity to crush the royalists. He followed through Yorkshire, uniting with Lambert and Harrison at Evesham and attacked the royalists at Worcester, defeating the Royalists on the 3rd of September.
Monk completed the subjugation of Scotland by 1654, made on more moderate lines than in Ireland. The estates of twenty-four leaders of the defeated cause were forfeited, and the national church was left untouched though deprived of all powers of interference with the civil government.
Steps were made towards representation of Scotland in the parliament at Westminster; free trade was established, the administration of justice greatly improved, vassalage and heritable jurisdictions abolished, and security and good order maintained by the council of nine appointed by the Protector. In 1658, Cromwell was congratulated for improving Scotland, but his policies in Ireland were unpopular, and only upheld by the maintenance of a large army.
On the 12th of September 1651 Cromwell made his triumphal entry into London at the conclusion of his victorious campaigns; and parliament granted him Hampton Court as a residence with £4000 a year - all triumphs obtained by force of arms; the more difficult task faced Cromwell as to whether he could govern England by parliament and by law.
On the 15th of April a provisional government tried to pass a bill for a new representation. Cromwell hastened to the House and proceeded to overwhelm the members with reproaches. Striding up and down the House in a passion, he hurled epithets at the members, calling some "whoremasters," others "drunkards, corrupt, unjust, scandalous to the profession of the Gospel."
"Perhaps you think," he exclaimed, "that this is not parliamentary language; I confess it is not, neither are you to expect any such from me." In reply to a complaint of his violence he cried, "Come, come, I will put an end to your prating. You are no parliament, I say you are no parliament. I will put an end to your sitting."
Then Harrison fetched in a small band of Cromwell's musketeers and compelled the speaker Lenthall to vacate the chair. Looking at the mace he said, "What shall we do with this bauble?" and ordered a soldier to take it away. The members then trooped out, Cromwell crying after them, "It is you that have forced me to this; for I have sought the Lord night and day that He would rather slay me than put me upon the doing this work." He then snatched the obnoxious bill from the clerk, put it under his cloak, and commanding the doors to be locked went back to Whitehall.
That afternoon he dissolved the council, and summoned a "Little" or "Barebones Parliament," consisting of one hundred and forty persons selected by the council of officers which met on the 4th of July 1653. This assembly, however, soon showed itself impracticable and incapable, and on the 12th of December the speaker, followed by the more moderate members, marched to Whitehall and returned their powers to Cromwell, while the rest were expelled by the army.
Some of the officers set up an Instrument of Government, , its authors wishing Oliver to assume the title of king, but this he repeatedly refused; and in the instrument he was named Protector. He and the council were given a life tenure of office, with a large army and a settled revenue sufficient for public needs in time of peace; while the clauses relating to religion favoured toleration.
On the 16th of December 1653 Cromwell was installed in his new Office, dressed as a civilian in a plain black coat instead of in scarlet as a general. Cromwell was essentially a conservative reformer; in his attempts to purge the court of chancery of its most flagrant abuses, and to settle the ecclesiastical affairs of the nation, he showed himself anxious to retain as much of the existing system as could be left untouched without doing positive evil.
Cromwell was especially interested in the universities. In 1649 he had been elected D.C.L. at Oxford, and in 1651 chancellor of the University, an office which he held till 1657, when he was succeeded by his son Richard. He founded a new readership in Divinity, and presented Greek MSS. to the Bodleian. He defended the universities from the attacks of the extreme sectaries who clamoured for their abolition, even Clarendon and in 1657, he founded a new university at Durham, which was suppressed at the Restoration. He patronized learning. Milton and Marvell were his secretaries, allowed the royalists Hobbes and Cowley to return to England, and lived in friendship with the poet Waller.
By his wife Elizabeth Bourchier, Cromwell had four sons, Robert (who died in 1639), Oliver (who died in 1644 while serving in his father's regiment), Richard, who succeeded him as Protector, and Henry. He also had four daughters. Of these Bridget was the wife successively of Ireton and Fleetwood, Elizabeth married John Claypole, Mary was wife of Thomas Belasyse, Lord Fauconberg; and Frances was the wife of Sir Robert Rich, and secondly of Sir John Russell. The last male descendant of the Protector was his great-great-grandson, Oliver Cromwell of Cheshunt, who died in 1821. By the female line, through his children Henry, Bridget and Frances, the Protector has had numerous descendants, and is the ancestor of many well-known families.'